An Illustrated Guide To Every Train And Sign In Manhattan’s Subway

Arts & Culture

Adam Chang's project recreates the experience of discovering the unique look of every New York subway station.

Rachel Pincus
  • 12 may 2014

New York City’s subways are full of mysteries and legends, and a quick search around the Internet (if you know where to look) can turn up tons of information about the rich world that millions of straphangers hurtle through every day. Much of this information about the subways tends to present itself on a linear grid, as does the information about New York’s streets on websites like New York Songlines; perhaps the rational design of Manhattan’s streets created this structure. The latest of this linear tradition is Adam Chang‘s NY Train Project, which combines fun facts with a clean, fresh Javascript interface whose animated elements suggest the experience of flying through the tunnels yourself.

Usually a freelance art director and designer, Chang is also a photographer in his spare time, and this labor of love has given him some space to show off his skills in this area. The photos on the website, which are presumably his, add some realism and grit to the flat colors and sweeping transitions that are more typical of the website and of today’s fashionable web designs as a whole.

Though the website is scarce on actual facts at the moment (especially on stations in the outer boroughs), this is a personal project for Chang that’s more focused on the journey than the destination. He could be just copying and pasting information from Wikipedia, but adding information is a more organic process for him, combined with a sense of reflexivity that is uncommon on such polished, professional-looking websites. Thus far, he’s spent 20 hours riding and waiting for trains over the course of the project, swiped himself into the system nine times, and covered 118 of the 468 stations in the system.

The most unique aspect of this project are the lovely, tranquil illustrations that Chang has done of the signs in every station. In a system of such daunting size, it can be difficult to notice the little details, but from the beginning of the project Chang has resolved to keep his eyes open. He says:

One day I was waiting for the 6 train and noticed the Bleecker sign and how intricate the details were. After that, I began to pay more attention to each sign and saw how they were all different in their own way. The subway can be easily overlooked but I think it’s a huge part of history and culture here in NYC. So, I decided I wanted to create a place to show the historic New York subway system by illustrating every sign, starting with Manhattan.

It’s certainly wonderful to see the station signs as they were originally meant to be seen, without the present stalactites and layers of sludge. And one day, the continuous flow of these station signs on Chang’s website will hopefully give New Yorkers a fresh appreciation of their city.

New York Train Project


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